Q&A: State House candidates McCluskie, McGahey talk COVID-19 economy, ski town affordability and police accountability law
The debate around coronavirus public health orders often pits the economy against human life. What do you think the state did right and wrong in the first six months of pandemic response?
Colorado had an immediate and strong emergency response to COVID-19. Gov. Jared Polis worked with experts in public health and epidemiology to determine a plan of action as soon as case numbers and deaths began to rise. We were one of the first states to implement a statewide mask mandate and institute regular public updates about the pandemic. State public health, public safety and emergency response leaders have done an admirable job balancing critical safety protocols with efforts to sustain businesses and ensure a robust economic recovery.
I am also proud of the steps I took as a member of the Joint Budget Committee to protect essential health care and safety-net services for Coloradans hit hardest by the pandemic. I voted in support of a COVID-19 legislative bill package that is awarding grants and loans to small businesses, allowing for expanded unemployment insurance, and providing housing, food and utility assistance for those in need.
Colorado has struggled with testing and contact tracing availability and implementation. In hindsight, a more proactive approach on testing and contact tracing would have served us well, but unfortunately, because we lacked a national response to the pandemic, this was not possible.
— Rep. Julie McCluskie
It is not a choice between the economy and human life. The two are not mutually exclusive as we are led to believe by the complicit liberal media. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Trump administration have been engaged in the rightful policy of balancing protection of the most vulnerable of our population, based on scientific data that confirms the 3% of the population older than 70 with underlying conditions are most at risk and need the most protection. As a country and a state, we have demonstrated our collective willingness to come together to protect that 3% and those lives at risk within that demographic. Now the scientific data confirms that the curve has been flattened, the risk to the general population has been significantly reduced, and as a matter of public health, it’s safe to allow the 97% — who are likely to be asymptomatic if infected — to get back to work, back to school and back to church. We have reached the fulcrum of safe health and rebuilding economies.
— Kim McGahey
How do you plan to help Colorado’s mountain resort economies recover from the pandemic?
I intend to limit the “emergency powers” of Gov. Jared Polis, and subsequent governors, who is using those powers to continually move the economic goal posts down the field until after the election. He, like other Democratic governors, hope to use the pandemic as a political weapon to intentionally tank the economy to defeat President Donald Trump. I will vote for a sundown of 120 days on those emergency powers so that the executive branch, along with a complicit legislative branch, cannot extend those draconian statewide restrictions indefinitely.
A one-size-fits-all pandemic policy is inappropriate and ineffective for Colorado and especially our mountain communities. Like Thomas Jefferson advocated, I would allow the economic recovery decision-making to be left up to the elected bodies closest to the people, i.e., the town councils, school boards, county commissioners and any other regional elected boards. Those boards know their jurisdictions much better than the governor and can find more efficient solutions to their local economic recovery.
The good news for our economy is that visitation to our High Country resorts and public lands has been thriving these past few months; hotel and real estate markets are booming. However, our mountain communities depend on outdoor recreation and the ski industry year-round, and operations for business in the cold months is uncertain.
I’ve communicated with our ski industry leaders and members of the governor’s office as they develop opening plans for the winter. Working collaboratively with these partners and our county and municipal leaders will be critical as we support the arrival of snowsports and winter tourism. I am committed to representing the voice of High Country and rural business leaders in hopes for additional federal and state stimulus support for small businesses. Economic recovery will be dependent on our ability to retain the current workforce and attract seasonal workers back to our communities during the winter. This requires partnering with local leaders on diversifying business opportunities, creating jobs that pay a living wage and offering expanded opportunities for remote workers.
Colorado’s mountain resort communities are becoming increasingly unaffordable for the local workforce. What solutions would you work to implement, specifically addressing housing and wages?
Affordable housing is a serious problem for all Western Slope communities. In my time at the Capitol, I’ve voted for legislation to invest millions in new affordable housing projects, supported the rights of mobile home owners and invested in Colorado’s eviction legal defense fund. While our progress on the affordable housing front has slowed due to the significant impacts on the state’s budget, my commitment to keeping people in their homes remains strong.
As a support member of the Summit Prosperity Initiative in 2019, I learned how critical it is for our high mountain communities to foster business innovation and growth, particularly in ways that create more living wage jobs. Additionally, Colorado must strengthen investments in the workforce of tomorrow. We must make a commitment to more adequately and equitably fund our public schools, colleges and universities so we ensure that every student is well-prepared and highly educated for 21st century jobs. I am proud of the bills I passed to increase the number of four-year degrees at Colorado Mountain College and expand concurrent enrollment opportunities for high school students across the state.
There is no shortage of employees wanting to work and live in the mountain resort communities. The labor supply always has been plentiful. Finding an affordable place to live has been the challenge for all of the 40-plus years I’ve lived in Summit County. I firmly believe that government should not be in the real estate business. Government has too many inefficiencies and biases to make a fair housing development. However, government can and should provide economic incentives to private-sector developers in order to make it more profitable for them to buy land, build apartments and provide a much needed community housing service. The proper role of the public sector is not to partner with the private sector, but rather to provide statutory economic and social incentives like taxes, fees, amenities, etc.
Voters will be asked to weigh in on several tax initiatives, including a measure to repeal the Gallagher Amendment, which sets limits on property tax assessment rates. How will you vote and why?
On the Taxpayers Bill of Rights and Gallagher Amendment, I believe Colorado is light years ahead of other states when it comes to forcing the state Legislature to be accountable and transparent. These are bullet-proof laws that protect the taxpayers from being abused by selfish lawmakers, and these laws should be kept in place.
I am strongly in favor of Amendment B and voted to refer this measure to the ballot along with a strong bipartisan coalition from the state General Assembly. Passed by voters in 1982, the Gallagher Amendment was designed to ensure a 45%-55% ratio between residential and nonresidential property taxes. By locking this ratio into Colorado’s Constitution, and with the compounding challenges of TABOR, the residential assessment rate has plummeted from 21% in 1982 to 7.15% today. A “yes” vote on Amendment B freezes the current residential assessment rate at 7.15%. That rate cannot increase without a vote of the people.
As the residential assessment rate has dropped, so has critical funding for public schools, local government services, fire districts and a myriad of special districts — like those funding our libraries and, in some cases, hospitals. The current projection for the next residential assessment rate adjustment will lower the rate to 5.88%. For public schools in the state, this means a $250 million reduction to total program funding, even more for those with mill levy overrides. Rural communities have been hit the hardest by these reductions, and our funding future is bleak if we don’t repeal Gallagher.
Colorado was one of the first states in the nation to pass a police accountability bill in response to ongoing police brutality protests. What do you think lawmakers got right and wrong?
The General Assembly crafted SB20-217: Enhance Law Enforcement Integrity in an effort to reform a law enforcement system, and I am one of the 84 out of 100 legislators who voted in support.
This bill is about restoring the public’s confidence in the policing system; it is not about attacking the good men and women who serve our communities so bravely. I believe the mandate for body-worn cameras and public access to those recordings will allow for more transparency. The bill reins in the use of deadly force and limits certain enforcement actions in response to public demonstrations. The bill also will prevent the rehiring of bad actors from one agency to another. Additionally, officers convicted of misconduct would no longer be shielded by the doctrine of qualified immunity.
But no legislation is perfect. With the help of county and law enforcement leaders, we are considering several revisions, including the clarification of definitions, resolving challenges to mutual aid and considering next steps for including state law enforcement officers. I look forward to continuing these conversations with all interested parties to ensure that every Coloradan feels safe in the community where they live.
To defund the police or reduce services provided by law enforcement is a misguided policy that only enables bad guys and introduces chaos into our society. Strict guidelines for police behavior are already in place in Colorado to guarantee that use of deadly force is a last resort and that responsible law enforcement behavior is standard operating procedure.
The ill-advised Senate Bill 217 makes cops more hesitant and less proactive by eliminating certain less-lethal choke holds and qualified immunity for police. Our police forces are already among the most highly trained, and judging by the 100-plus person turnout at our recent “defend police” rallies that I have organized in Summit County this summer, the local community enthusiastically supports our law enforcement. I hope our town councils and county commissioners do the same. I don’t want to call 911 for a life-and-death emergency and have them send me a social worker!
Rep. Julie McCluskie, a Summit Cove Democrat, is running for reelection in Colorado House District 61 against Kim McGahey, a Breckenridge Republican.
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